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Dispute over who 'real' parents are follows DOE official's remark

A top Department of Education official butted heads with a parent this morning over the credibility of parent advocates, suggesting that advocacy groups do not reflect the views of “real parents.”

The dispute took place during this morning’s “On Education” panel, which GothamSchools co-hosted.

During a back-and-forth with Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch over the success of mayoral control in New York City, the DOE’s typically reserved chief academic officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky, said the complaints of parent advocacy groups are not as credible as the surveys the city collects on parent satisfaction.

“Ninety-two percent of parents report that they are getting really good service each year from their schools,” he said. “I would urge people before categorizing stuff based on the voices of politicians or specific parent advocacy groups that may not have had their needs met, to really look at the data about what real parents are saying.”

On the panel, William Thompson, a former city comptroller and prospective mayoral candidate, raised his eyebrows and appeared startled by the comment (1:55 in video).

And in the audience, Ocynthia Williams also took issue with Polakow-Suransky’s characterization of parents when the panel fielded questions. “I’m with one of those parent advocacy groups, and I am a real parent, even though I’m an advocate,” Williams said, eliciting some applause. “I took offense to hearing you say that real parents like what’s going on in their schools.”

Williams is a parent leader with the Coalition for Educational Justice.

“When he said, ‘the real parents,’ you heard a ‘woah’ come over the room,” she said after the panel discussion.

After the discussion, Polakow-Suransky and Williams huddled together and spoke quietly. Williams said the DOE deputy had offered her both an apology and an explanation.

“He said that the statement had not come out the way that he meant. He said that the conversation is being defined by a small group of people, and I said to him, ‘Yes, but those people are parents too,” said Williams, whose six children all attended New York City schools.

She said outcries from parent advocates are important because they represent parents who do not speak during public meetings. In this case, she told the audience that Polakow-Suransky was wrong to highlight parent satisfaction at a time when the racial achievement gap is widening. Last year, Williams was part of a CEJ protest against low test scores that derailed a school board meeting

“That 92 percent he said comes only from people who are surveyed, who actually return their surveys,” she said. “Schools in the communities are failing — so no, our parents are not happy.”

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